By Bob Behre
Resiliency is a reflection of a strong will and few teams exhibit the type of will to win embodied in the 2021 Diamond Jacks Super 13U squad.
The Diamond Jacks Super 13U staged comebacks in four of their six games on the way to the 13U Perfect Game Super 25 National Championship on July 15-19 at Baseball Heaven in Yaphank, N.Y.
“We’re a good little team that plays hard,” said Super 13U coach Mike Buckelew. “Our recipe for success is timely hitting, some small ball, strong defense and quality pitching.”
The Diamond Jacks used all of those tools and a bit of intestinal fortitude, which has been known to make good teams great and turn winners into champions. The Super 13U were truly most dangerous after an opponent’s rally. And they saved their best for when it counted most.
Down 4-0, they came back to defeat Brooklyn Falcons 13U Columbia, 6-4, in the quarterfinals. Trailing 8-5, the Diamond Jacks exploded for a pair of five-run innings on the way to a 17-9 victory over Hayner Academy Barnstormers in the semifinals. Finally, the Super 13U fell behind twice in the final to Team Francisco Notorious 9 13U Select before rallying for three runs in the bottom of the fifth to erase a 6-5 deficit and secure an 8-6 victory and the national championship.
“Early in the tournament, games were close and scores were low,” said Buckelew. “But over four or five days teams start running out of pitching. We told the kids they were going to have to hit. Our bats really woke up in the semifinals and finals.”
Playing quality competition game-after-game will test a team and eventually reveal its toughness, or lack thereof.
“Our motto that week was just really a win is a win and we have to find ways to accomplish that,” said Buckelew. We moved guys over on the bases very well the entire week. We got bunts down when we needed to. We had a very big team approach all week. It wasn’t always pretty or the cleanest, but we found a way to gut it out.”
The Diamond Jacks showcased their lineup depth in the championship game when six players chipped in with at least one RBI. Chase Shollenberger drove in two runs and Danny Contiliano (2-for-3), Luke Borgmann (double), Jack Markovich, Lorenzo Maselli and Matthew Baker (2-for-4, double) each delivered one run.
Joaquin Rivera and Markovich pieced together the win. Rivera worked the first three innings and left with the game tied at 2-2. Markovich worked 2.2 innings, permitting three hits, no walks and striking out one.
“We continued to respond to our opponents’ rallies,” said Buckelew. “I credit them for putting pressure on us and I’m proud of our guys for coming back and changing the momentum.”
The Super 13U rallied to defeat the Brooklyn Falcons, both in the tournament opening game and in the quarterfinals, with a pair of runs in its last at bat.
The Falcons trailed Super 13U 6-3 but responded with a four-run top of the fifth to take a 7-6 lead. The Diamond Jacks, however, had another rally of their own, striking for two runs in the bottom of the sixth to secure the 8-7 victory in a game shortened by the time limit.
In the quarterfinals, Brooklyn led 4-0 after it’s first three at bats, but the Diamond Jacks tied the game with four runs in the bottom of the third inning and tacked on two go-ahead runs in the bottom of the fourth to take a 6-4 lead. Alex Famolari, who would be named the tournament’s Most Valuable pitcher, worked the first four innings, allowing four runs on just two hits, but, importantly, got the Diamond Jacks through the Brooklyn fourth scoreless.
Cole Raymond then entered in the fifth and last inning and pitched a 1-2-3 inning with a strikeout to close out the victory and send the Diamond Jacks to the semifinals. Raymond chipped in offensively, too, ripping an RBI double and scoring a run. Shollenberger added a double and scored and Contiliano went 1-for-2 with an RBI. Baker and Famolari each knocked in a run, as well.
“We found a way against the Falcons in both comebacks,” said Buckelew.
Finding a way just seemed to be the motto for the Diamond Jacks in the PG national championship. They had to do that again in the semifinals when they learned a quick 5-0 lead in the top of the first inning wasn’t going to be enough.
The Barnstormers answered with two runs in the bottom of the first and erupted for six runs in the bottom of the second, keyed by a grand slam that staked them to an 8-5 lead.
“The grand slam off one of our better arms gave them the momentum,” said Buckelew. “But we just responded.”
The Super 13U got a run back in the third then exploded for five runs in the fourth to take an 11-8 lead. And the Diamond Jacks weren’t done in what would turn out to be their best offensive showing of the tournament. It couldn’t have been timed better because Hayner Academy would produce nine runs on eight hits in the game.
But that impressive performance by the Barnstormers could not match the Diamond Jacks 14 hits and 17 runs. The Super 13U added a run in the fifth and five more runs in the sixth, the team’s third five-run inning in the game.
An incredible 11 Diamond Jacks chimed in with at least one RBI in the fireworks show. Raymond, Rivera and Maselli drove in two runs apiece and Borgmann, Markovich (double, 2 runs), Contiliano, William Macken, Brian Tulli, Baker and Brandon Lalli each had an RBI.
Famolari, who batted over .600 for the tournament, went 3-for-3 in the game with a double and scored three runs.
“Every kid had his moment,” said Buckelew. “We had a ton of great at bats and flipped the lineup over. We drew a walk when we needed to. Everyone from the bottom, to the middle, to the top of the lineup contributed in different ways every game. We had a lot of long at bats and those are the type of things that help you make it to the championship game. You need everyone to step up and all of our guys did.”
The Diamond Jacks Super 13U finished its spring and summer seasons a remarkable 53-8-2. They outscored their PG national championship opponents 67-36 during their 6-0-1 run through the event.